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About Chautauqua Opera

About | History | Jay Lesenger | Carol Rausch | Auditions | Employment | Staff 2014 | Facts

Founded in 1929, Chautauqua Opera is North America's oldest continuously operating summer opera company and 4th oldest opera company after the Metropolitan Opera, Cincinnati Opera and San Francisco Opera. The 2014 Chautauqua Opera season offers a fully staged production in Chautauqua Institution's 5000-seat Amphitheater & another in Norton Hall. Chautauqua Opera productions feature internationally recognized guest artists as well as promising young singers from our Young Artists Program.

General Directors

Jay Lesenger (1994-present)
Linda Jackson (1988-1994)
Cynthia Auerbach (1981-1987)
Leonard Treash (1966-1980)
Julius Rudel (1959)
Alfredo Valenti (1944-1958)
Albert Stoessel (1929-1943)


Chautauqua Opera founded in 1929
Apprentice Program started in 1968
Chautauqua Opera Guild founded in 1974
Studio Program started in 1981

Since 1929
453 productions
151 operas
64 composers

Current Administration

  • Jay Lesenger, General/Artistic Director since 1994
  • Carol Rausch, Music Administrator/Chorus Master since 1989
  • Michael Baumgarten, Production Manager since 1999
  • Michael Berg, Administrative Director since 2012
  • Gabriel Estrin, Company Manager since 2012


The word "Chautauqua" came from the naming of the lake. It is said that Chautauqua is an American Indian word meaning "a bag tied in the middle" (to describe the shape of the lake) or "two moccasins tied together.

Famous Artists at Chautauqua Opera

Keri Alkema, Rose Baumpton, Richard Bernstein, Robert Breault, Joyce Castle, Matthew Chellis, Michael Chioldi, Kristin Clayton, Philip Cokorinos, Mary Dunleavy, Mark Delavan, Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, Mignon Dunn, George Dvorsky, Eric Fennell, Kathryn Freeman, Alex Gemignani, Kevin Glavin, Sari Gruber, Eugenie Grunewald, Brenda Harris, Pamela Hinchman, Joshua Hopkins, Anita Johnson, Brandon Jovanovich, Keith Jurosko, Margaret Lattimore, Indira Mahajan, Lee Meriweather, Timothy Noble, Carolann Page, Brownie Peebles, Ashley Putnam, Jane Redding, Lisa Saffer, Chad Shelton, Pamela South, Carol Sparrow, Reneée Tatum, Todd Thomas, Mark Thomsen, Shirley Verrett, Joshua Winograde, Sheryl Woods

Chautauqua Opera Premieres

  • Recent Chautauqua premieres include Britten's Peter Grimes in 2013, Menotti's The Consul in 2009, Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen in 2008, Massenet's Werther in 2007, Barber's Vanessa in 2006, Verdi's Stiffelio in 2004, Adamo's Little Women in 2002, Smetana's Two Widows in 1999, Donizetti's Maria Stuart, Bach and Harnick's She Loves Me in 1998 and Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1996.
  • In 1993, Chautauqua Opera premiered the fully orchestrated version of A Chekhov Trilogy, three operas by Richard Wargo based on short stories by the Russian author.
  • In 1974, the world premiere of Seymour Barab's opera of the post civil war era, Philip Marshall and Howard Hanson's opera, Merry Mount were produced for Chautauqua's centennial year. Merry Mount was seldom performed due to it's grandiose production standards. It was a huge hit at the Met, but no other house had the means to produce it. Hanson scaled the orchestra down from 96 to 48 pieces and at age 77 conducted the production himself.
  • The first stage mounting of Amahl and the Night Visitors was performed in 1952 following its worldwide NBC television production in 1951.

Seasonal Information

  • During the season Chautauqua Opera employs more than 100 guest artists, staff, Young Artists and orchestra members.
  • All are housed on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution or on properties within a two mile radius of the grounds.